Would A Third Of Europeans Really Prefer A Robot Prime Minister?

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After three years of "Brexit" chatter and still no sense of direction, it is perhaps little surprise that many in the UK would hand over the job of government to intelligent robots.

Indeed, according to European Tech Insights 2019 presented by IE University, Spain, as many as a third of Europeans would choose AI above their fellow human when it comes to making the tough decisions that come with running a country. This is based on the responses of 2,576 adults aged 18 to 99 from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, and the UK – an arguably pretty limited survey pool, but more on that later.

The purpose of the exercise was to find out how the European public feel about the technological changes occurring in their respective countries (or what the researchers call the "Fourth Industrial Revolution") and how well they think their government is responding to the challenge.

The response to the latter is, in a nutshell, pretty poorly. Two-thirds of responders believe that without proper regulation, these new technologies will do more damage than good over the next 10 years. Similar numbers say that the governance of this new technology is the biggest test facing the European Union (EU) right now, along with climate change, and 56 percent express concern that robots will replace humans in most jobs. In contrast, only 30 percent of respondents voiced enthusiasm about the growing potential of robotics and automation. 

The survey found that the vast majority (72 percent) of respondents believe the government should set quotas for the number of jobs that are allowed to be automated. An even higher number (74 percent) think businesses should be prevented from automating any job that is not considered unhealthy or dangerous. 

But while there is clear opposition to automation generally-speaking, there is one area of business for which many respondents actively endorsed automation – the business of government. One-quarter of respondents said they would prefer policy decisions to be made by AI, not politicians.

In some countries, this figure was even higher. In Germany and the UK, 31 percent of respondents supported the automation of government. In the Netherlands, a surprisingly high 43 percent did. Diego Rubio, Executive Director of the Center for the Governance of Change at IE University, puts this down to growing disillusionment with the political class. 

"This mindset, which probably relates to the growing mistrust citizens feel towards governments and politicians, constitutes a significant questioning of the European model of representative democracy, since it challenges the very notion of popular sovereignty," Rubio said in a statement.

For now, at least, the majority of citizens appear to be opposed to the notion of a robotic overlord PM and it's worth remembering that AI comes with its own set of problems – not least, racism and sexism. After all, they are programmed by us, fallible humans.

It is also worth pointing out that with just 2,576 respondents out of a population of more than 7 million, the survey may be too small to leap to any drastic conclusions. Neither does it include any respondents from eastern Europe, which would suggest the findings are more representative of western European views than the continent as a whole.

Still, it's a talking point that will hopefully encourage more governments to discuss the socio-political ramifications of a "Fourth Industrial Revolution".

"The vast majority of Europeans expect their governments to set new laws and taxes to limit automation and prevent job displacement, even if that means slowing down economic progress," said Rubio.

"These results are consistent across countries, age groups, genders and, perhaps more surprisingly, ideologies. And yet, these kinds of measures are currently out of the political debate."

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